• Favourite Photo of Marcel Duchamp

    This is my favourite photograph of Marcel Duchamp.  It sometimes goes under the title of 'Marchel Duchamp's Departure for America'.  An artist like Duchamp is unique in everything, and sometimes that comes down to the pure ephemera such as this photograph represents.

    Let us look at it in detail.

  • The Peasant and the Nest Robber (1569)

    The the Peasant and the Nest Robber (1569)

    Being able to read paintings in the classical or Biblical mode is not a skill that people in general much possess these days.  That said, our points of reference are still many and varied, and as viewers we know a huge amount (that we don't know we know) about marketing idioms, pornography, graphic memes and television and film.

    No one today could be expected therefore to see The Peasant and the Nest Robber (1569)  by and think immediately of the passage in Matthew's Gospel, which states: 'Why beholdest thou the mote that is in they brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thing own eye?' although this is the generally accepted reference; that and a Flemish proverb which states: Die das Nest wissen, wissen es, die es rauben, haben es (He who knows where the nest is, has the knowledge, he who robs, has the nest).

    Such a sentiment is not only within the moralising and pessimistic language of Breugel, but contrasts an active wicked individual about to come to grief, with a passive individual who at least appears as virtuous.  Painted the year before Breugel's death, this picture may also represent a twisted joke concerning a 'nest' being Flemish slang for 'fanny', or whatever you like to call a girl's woo-woo.

    Other Breugel qualities abound; the twisted branch by the stream which looks more like a human limb, which will have had a great significance to him, if nobody else; there is the cod; and also the period housing, which always abounds.

    As for the characters, I can't help thinking of a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush, although there is clear peril to be had from ransacking nature in the way the upper figure is.  On top of that the central figure is about to walk into a stream, with a delighted smile on his face, not unlike the Tarot's fool.

    Here as ever Breugel talks of human folly, and seems to place us somewhat outwith nature, interlopers, fools, or just beings that are not quite in harmony with nature, which of course equals God.